Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Is gender non-conformity immoral?

Recently I re-read Christine Jorgensen's autobiography.  The copy on the back cover includes this:
"Fifteen years ago [in 1953], a slender young woman stepped off a plane from Denmark to be greeted by howling reporters and an outraged American public."
Now I ask myself, why were they "outraged?"  Why that in particular? What is there about a sex change to invoke outrage, when it ought to be a personal decision that does no harm to anyone?

A little friend of mine on Facebook joined a group called "I hate it when you can't tell if someone is a boy or a girl." I decided to take a look at it.  I believe that everyone in the group is young, because most of the incidents described happened at school. Also, they sound very young.  And several incidents took the form of "I said, 'Wow, that cute boy smiled at me' and my friends said, 'That's a girl, stupid!'"

In other words, what they hate is feeling attracted to someone who turns out to be the socially unacceptable gender for them to be attracted to.  This gets back to the homophobia I touched on in my earlier post.

I'm discussing gender non-conformity in general, rather than focusing on transgender or transsexuality, because I believe that gender non-conformity is what really bothers people - probably because it's something that more people have experienced for themselves.  Nobody can conform completely to their gender stereotype.  And I believe that everybody knows at least one person who really can't conform, who causes the people around them to feel outraged and disturbed and complain about it on Facebook.  (Unfortunately that's not all they do.)

Some reasons why gender non-conformity is considered to be "immoral":
  1. Cross-dressing is forbidden in the Bible.
  2. Genitals define gender . . . anybody who imagines their gender to be based on something else is insane. (Does that mean that insanity is immoral?)
  3. People are supposed to conform to their gender roles, because society is based on the arrangement that men go out to work and women stay home and take care of the kids.
  4. I don't know any transgendered people, therefore there is no such thing; aka Transgendered people look like freaks, therefore they are freaks/The trans people I've known are neurotic, therefore all trans people are neurotic/I've never wanted to change my gender, therefore anyone whose life choices are different from mine is immoral, ie, wrong.  (Again, that's a very long-winded example of objection on the grounds of non-conformity.)
Gender non-conformity is a sin in the sense that all non-conformity is sinful.  Also gender non-conformity is strongly linked to sexuality, which makes everything worse. (This is what puritanical Americans are taught to believe.)

Examples of gender non-conformity:
  1. Women wearing pants.
  2. Women smoking cigarettes.
  3. Men doing laundry.
  4. Men letting their hair grow below their ears.
  5. Women getting college degrees.
  6. Men taking care of children.
These are all horribly shocking things which have caused the breakdown of society. Right? Also they may encourage transgendered people to think, "Well if they can do that then why can't I transgress a few gender norms myself?" None of the items in that list make a person transgendered or transsexual. But this does:
  1. People deciding that they are not defined by their genitals.
That's the danger zone right there. And really, I mean, what's wrong with that? Why would we want to be defined by our unmentionable bits? (Okay, I'm being sarcastic. But that's what sex is all about in Western culture. We say it's disgusting but we can't get away from it.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Social Skills for Aspies

(No, this is not specifically a transgender subject. But it is a subject that concerns me.  And I do think social skills can be more difficult for trans people.  So.)

The term "Aspies" refers to people who have or appear to have Asperger's syndrome, which is  "characterized by an inability to understand how to interact socially."  I have never been officially diagnosed (and I don't want to be) but I was definitely born without social skills.  However, I have managed to learn at least a little bit about social interaction.  Here are my tips:
  1. The first key to acquiring social skills is to want to interact with people, to believe that there is some benefit in it to you, and also to them.  If it is important enough to you, you will put some work into it.  And it does take work but it can be done. 
  2. Basic rules of etiquette are actually very easy to memorize and use.
  3. The purpose of etiquette and small talk is primarily to indicate that you are a) interested in talking to someone and b) able to behave more or less like a normal person.  The actual verbal "information" conveyed in conversation is less important than the act of conversation itself.  This is why, for example, the weather remains a perennial topic of conversation.  If you say, "Oh, it's raining again" or "What a nice day," you are not conveying any information that the other person doesn't already know.  You are giving them an opportunity to agree with you, which is pretty much the goal of most social communication.
  4. Social communication is very often not about saying what you really think.  This may seem like hypocrisy, but it is absolutely essential.  (Reading Jane Austen taught me this.)
  5. Aspies have a tendency to be very intense.  Most social interactions are meant to be casual and superficial - that means, the opposite of intense.  That's why it is helpful to back off, not to treat every conversation as an argument or a chance for you to do all the talking.  And if, like me, you're more likely not to talk at all - it still helps to take conversations less seriously, to cultivate the ritual of conversation, to treat it like a game.  Once you learn the rules, it really is quite predictable.
  6. People like to be given opportunities to talk about themselves. And it helps if you genuinely listen to what they say.  Remember, this is a good opportunity for you to collect information.
  7. When someone says, "Hello, how are you?" the correct response is, "I'm fine, how are you?"  If you know them well and they seem friendly, and you are not in fact "fine," you might expand your response to something like, "Things are pretty crazy today," but keep it short (two or three words) and try to finish up with "how are you?"  The goal is to give them a chance to say whatever they wanted to say when they approached you.  Or if they were greeting you in passing, the goal is to respond and let each of you go on about your business.
  8. Most of these rules are for casual interactions, with people you don't know very well.  I believe that it's also important to be polite to family members and closer friends.
  9. Eye contact.  This is a tough one for Aspies.  Personally, I find that I'm afraid of looking people in the face.  It seems to provide me with too much information.  I prefer focusing on people without looking at them directly.  (Do you find that it's easier to look at someone when both of you are smiling, in a good mood, having a pleasant conversation?)  In any case, it's important to remember to make eye contact - although people don't like fixed stares either.  Meet their eyes for a couple seconds and then look away.  Wait a few minutes and then repeat.
Advanced social skills:  manipulation.  Some people have an amazing ability to tell people what they want to hear, or to talk them into doing what they want them to do.  It seems to be something they're born with . . . one child of my acquaintance, when she wants to use a toy her brother is playing with, reminds him that "it's nice to share."  Get it?  For people like that, the sharing only goes one way.  In any case, manipulation is probably beyond the abilities of socially disabled people, but it is interesting to think about just how much can be done with social skills.  I recommend The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker, which includes a description of the techniques used by con artists to manipulate. (By the way, "con" was originally short for "confidence" - gaining someone's confidence is a key element of being able to manipulate them.)

Most of what I've written here is about creating a social persona.  I was also born without one of those (is that the same as being born without social skills?)  A social persona is a buffer between yourself and the world.  It protects you.  The only way I could think of to protect myself, when I was young, was not to attract attention at all, not to talk to people at all. But that doesn't really work too well.  The social persona is a much better shield.  (Although some people go overboard with it and forget that they are anything besides their social persona.  It's important to remember that there is always a real person underneath.)

One last thought:  it seems to be widely believed that children need to be taught how to read.  But they are not taught social skills in the same way -- not "officially" at school.  Ironically, like many Aspies I did in fact teach myself to read before starting school, but I couldn't teach myself social skills.  (If my parents were supposed to teach me -- well, they didn't.)  For us, being expected to understand social interactions is like being expected to know how to read without being taught would be for "ordinary" children.  I have to say that it's very frustrating.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Michael Dillon: The "First" Man-Made Man

The First Man-Made Man, by Pagan Kennedy, is a book about Michael Dillon, one of the first people to undergo sex-reassignment surgery.  At the time the book was written he was believed to have been the first female-to-male transsexual, but recently someone else has been rediscovered.  Call Dillon the second man-made man.

It's a short book which contains tremendous amounts of information.  Some of the most interesting stuff is not directly related to Dillon at all.  I will attempt to give a short overview of his life.

The Person

Dillon was born in 1915 and named Laura Maud Dillon.  (He later changed his name to Laurence Michael, but seems always to have gone by "Michael.")  His mother died of complications soon after the birth.  In that era, fathers were believed to be incapable of caring for children, let alone infants, so Dillon's father handed off his two young children to a pair of spinster aunts.  He died when Dillon was nine.

These women were what one might call highly eccentric.  The lives of genteel unmarried women were at that time fairly restricted, and they seem to have imposed even more restrictions than were necessary.  According to Kennedy, they told their niece that no one wanted to come over to her house, or invite her to their houses.  They even told her not to greet people if she passed them on the street.  Under these conditions, it's not surprising that Dillon never really developed any social skills and found it difficult to make friends later in life.

The young Dillon had one stroke of luck:  he was befriended by the local vicar, who convinced the aunts to let him go to Oxford.  The first women's colleges at Oxford were founded in 1879 -- however, women were not allowed to take complete degrees until 1920.  It was at Oxford that Dillon began dressing as a man.

In 1939, a year after graduation, Dillon consulted a doctor for the first time about what we would today call his "transsexuality."  The doctor gave him some testosterone pills, but unfortunately he also gossiped to Dillon's co-workers about this "woman who wanted to become a man."  Dillon quit his job and moved to another town.

In 1943, Dillon met a plastic surgeon, one of the first in Britain, who had studied with the man who apparently invented plastic surgery, Harold Gillies. Dr. Gillies invented his surgical techniques while working on men who had been disfigured in World War I, people who had been injured in accidents . . . and on a certain number of people who either had been born with ambiguous genitals, or wanted sex-reassignment surgery.  His disciple wrote Dillon a note that enabled him to change the name and sex listed on his identity documents (possibly before any surgery had been carried out) and passed him on to Dr. Gillies, who performed several surgeries on his chest and genitals over a number of years.

In 1949 he became the proud new owner of an official penis.  Ironically, the main purpose of this organ was to allow him to pass in those "public" situations where men are gathered together in the nude or semi-nude.  It was not fully functional, and considering that men have a taboo against staring at each other's equipment, one can't help but wonder just how realistic it was.  In any case, Dillon was happy.  Temporarily.

The story of Dillon's outing is surely unique.  Dillon's father had actually been a baronet.  When he died, the title passed to Dillon's older brother, who had no children.  Therefore Michael Dillon was the heir to the baronetcy (although Laura Dillon would not have been.)  Dillon wanted to be officially known as the heir.  It turns out that there are two directories of the peerage in Britain -- Burke's and Debrett's.  Dillon showed his revised birth certificate to the editor of Debrett's and explained the situation.  The editor saw his point and changed the entry for the baronetcy in question.  He believed that Burke's peerage would also get changed, but this did not happen.  Someone compared the two peerages and asked, "Why is Laura Dillon listed in one and Michael Dillon listed in the other?"

This happened in 1958.  Dillon was then working as a ship's doctor.  His ship was docked in Baltimore when the story of the peerage discrepancy broke -- and apparently it was huge.  Dillon couldn't stand the publicity (if it had been me, I would have left the peerage and the baronetcy alone, but Dillon wanted to be recognized.  Except he also didn't.)  He fled again.

A couple years earlier, he had become interested in mysticism.  He studied the works of Gurdjieff, and found a "Tibetan" guru who turned out to be a fake.  But Tibet still called to him.  When the peerage story broke, he went to India and became the disciple of an English Buddhist who had been ordained as a monk in the Theravada tradition.  Dillon wanted to be ordained as well, but he discovered that, according to the original Buddhist rules, members of the "third sex" are not allowed to be ordained.

What did they mean by the "third sex?"  Kennedy says it's not clear.  I would have been fascinated to find out, but if Dillon felt any particular curiosity, his biographer doesn't mention it.  He hoped that they would make an exception for him.  He was happy in India (it was difficult to get to Tibet because it was in the process of being occupied by the Chinese) despite these various problems. 

As Kennedy says, he had reshaped his body and now he was trying to reshape his mind.  He was living in a foreign land . . . there must have been something comforting about that.  I believe that people judge foreigners less harshly than they judge their own -- or rather, they allow strangers to be strange.  If it's one of your own kind, you have to keep them in line.  Dillon also admitted to feeling a certain superiority, as a white man in Asia.  In England he was only a freak.

He gave away his inheritance, an act which he believed was in accordance with Buddhist doctrine, and lived in poverty.  He died in 1962, in India, probably of malnutrition.  (There is a website which claims that the Buddhist vegetarian diet is what malnourished him, but it was more likely to be lack of food in general.)

The Book

I would not say that Kennedy is unsympathetic to her subject, but I do feel that she misses the point of transsexuality.  Much of the book is devoted to a discussion of the history of cosmetic surgery and hormone treatment, in which Kennedy provides many fascinating (and sometimes grotesque) facts.  Her goal is to demonstrate that both cissexuals* and transsexuals have sought to alter their bodies with surgery and hormones . . . and if that causes people to feel more tolerance for transsexuals, that's great, but I still believe that wanting to get a new nose (for example) is not at all the same thing as wanting to change your biological sex.  Also, hormone therapy for cissexuals promises to "maintain" or "restore" their current or former state.  It doesn't create an entirely new physical condition.

After reading this book, I had to wonder if I really understood Michael Dillon.  Perhaps biographies of transfolk can never be entirely successful, because it is such a subjective state of being.  For example, after I read Conundrum by Jan Morris (which Kennedy describes as "masterfully written," by the way) I did feel as if I understood her.  She was expressing herself, speaking for herself; no one else could speak for her.  That is the essence of transgender/transsexuality:  no one else can speak for us.  (Incidentally, the year before he died Dillon did complete an autobiography, which Kennedy had access to, but the manuscript has not been published.)

The First Man-Made Man is unquestionably worth reading . . . but it also seems to be wandering in the dark.  (Is that an accurate reflection of Michael Dillon's life?)  It describes his body, and some of his mental processes, but it never seems to find his heart.  The body can be reshaped, the mind can be reprogrammed, but the heart is that item deep inside of us which does not change.

*"Cissexual" is the opposite of "transsexual," just as "cisgender" is the opposite of "transgender:"  it refers to someone who feels their gender to be in harmony with their biological sex.

Monday, November 16, 2009

"It's all in your mind."

I recently came across this very interesting story about detecting the effects of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) on brain activity.  Apparently this is what they found:
A brain processing system that includes the amygdala — the fear hot spot — becomes overactive. Other regions important for attention and memory, regions that usually moderate our response to fear, are tamped down.
That feels right to me, based on my own experience.  If "attention" means "paying attention to events in the present," it's very true that you lose that ability when in the throes of an anxiety/PTSD attack. It's interesting that memory should also be affected.  One might think that PTSD is caused by unpleasant memories.  Maybe what happens is you focus on that particular memory and forget others.  It's as if you lose touch with the present and the past . . . with everything except the nightmare.

But this bit made me sad. And angry:
. . . problems too often shrugged off as "just in your head" in fact do have physical signs . . . "There's something different in your brain," explains Dr. Jasmeet Pannu Hayes of Boston University, who is helping to lead that research at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for PTSD. "Just putting a real physical marker there, saying that this is a real thing," encourages more people to seek care, he said.
It's so infuriating that something like PTSD is "not real" unless scientists can find physical evidence.  I mean, that applies to all of our feelings, right?  How do we know if we're really happy or sad, without a freaking scientist to tell us so?  I guess I'm going to have to get a brain scan every time I try to decide which flavor of ice cream to buy.  Which one do I really want?  Oh I can't tell because it's all in my mind!

And of course this totally applies to transgender, which is all in a person's mind.  Many people have theorized about physical causes for gender dysphoria.  Personally I don't care. I don't need scientific justification for my feelings.  I've spent years trying to understand myself and my own mind.  Not that I understand it all, but I believe that psychological techniques, and teaching people that it's okay to feel the things that you feel, have more potential to solve mental/emotional problems than fixating on physical evidence.

Moreover, we interact with the world by creating a mental model.  It really is all in our minds.  Just ask the Buddhists.  It's strange that our society values the mental above the physical in many ways . . . but not this one.

Free Will

Christians used to believe in free will.  I've been wondering lately if they still do.  (I'm not a Christian, but I live in a country which finds it difficult to conceive of morality outside the Christian framework.)  I have the impression that God gave us free will and we're supposed to use it.  To me that implies that, not only do we get to make choices, but a wide variety of choices are probably acceptable.  If there is really only One Right Way, that's not a choice, is it?

But, for example, when I hear some Christians talk about homosexuality, free will seems to vanish.  Specifically, the conservative Christian argument goes as follows: To be homosexual is a sin, but since we're all sinful it may not be any worse than any other sin. However, to act on one's homosexual desires is definitely wrong.   What becomes of free will in that situation?

To me that sounds like any exercise of one's free will is immoral, because we are born sinful and therefore all our natural desires are sinful. There is actually no choice in moral matters: you can only obey the commandments of your religion. (Or other authority figures.)  Maybe the Christian definition of free will never meant anything other than, "you have a choice either to behave and go to Heaven, or misbehave and suffer eternal damnation."  I really don't think that's much of a choice.

In any case, it's an axiom of the homosexual movement that homosexuality is not a choice.  This may grant us a certain amount of tolerance, according to the argument described above, that "we're all sinners," but that tolerance only seems to go so far.  It's extremely dependent on people not flaunting it.  (I also think it's a stumbling block as regards the gay marriage issue, because everybody knows that marriage is a choice.)

Fundamentally, homosexuality is something you do, as well as something you are.  And that will always get back to the question of choice and free will.  I'm not entirely convinced that the "not a choice" argument is helpful.  Saying, "it's not my fault, I was born that way" confirms the belief that it is sinful.  It says, "Yes this is a bad thing but you can't blame me for it."

Choosing to act on X says, "I believe this is the right thing to do."  It poses a moral challenge.  We say that if we are to be true to ourselves we must act on this, act out this, be visible instead of invisible.  We say that true morality consists of being true to ourselves . . . and that's the complete opposite of the Christian doctrine of original sin.

(Yes, this entire argument applies to transgender as well.  I'll be writing about that in an upcoming post.)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Quentin Crisp: Disloyal to Civilization

I adore the late Quentin Crisp.  If I believed in role models, he would be one of mine.  But in fact, neither he nor I believe in them.  I've just been rereading his collected works and was struck by this comment he made after reading a book about the movie stars Clift, Brando and Dean:
"It then dawned on my befuddled brain that what many men feel convention is preventing them from expressing may not be some hideous piratical urge to rape or homicide, but the feminine side of their natures.  This is an idea that has never before occurred to me."
The reason it never occurred to him is that Mr. Crisp was completely incapable of repressing his feminine side, even if he had wanted to, which he apparently didn't.

I have frequently encountered the claim that civilization is the only thing that prevents us from doing horrible things to each other.  Because apparently human beings are all psychopaths and our deepest desires are to kill and maim.  I despise that concept utterly. 

As far as I can tell, the goal of civilization is to set up a social hierarchy wherein the upper ranks get to dominate, and the fact that we all start at the bottom, as children, stores up plenty of resentment and hostility that, if we belong to the fortunate categories, we can take out on our underlings later, when we get underlings.  But perhaps, like many of my compatriots, I have confused "civilization" with "family values."

Anyway, I infinitely prefer the idea that these "horrible things" from which civilization is saving us are only effeminacy, or female masculinity, or uppityness in general, or sex between consenting adults.  I think that explains a lot.

Radclyffe Hall: Congenital Invert

I recently read Sally Cline's biography of Radclyffe Hall.  I can't exactly recommend this particular book, because I found the writer's style annoying, but Hall is a fascinating subject and I do believe the research was well done.

Radclyffe Hall was openly lesbian, politically conservative and independently wealthy.  Those three things all go together: she could afford to be out, but because of her wealth and family pride she also feared social change . . . except when it might benefit her and her kind.  (Ironically, she was opposed to female suffrage.  I guess she didn't think the vote was very important.)  She was physically abused by her mother, and perhaps also by her stepfather, but she supported them financially throughout their worthless lives.

For her religious beliefs, she was a devout Catholic and also a strong believer in Spiritualism.  Perhaps one of the strangest things about her is that she and her life partner, Una Troubridge, carried on a longterm "posthumous" relationship with Mabel Batten, who was Hall's first significant lover and Troubridge's cousin.  (Incidentally, a surprising number of English lesbians "of good family" converted to Catholicism in the first half of the 20th century.  It was an act that allowed you to become both rebellious and steeped in tradition.  As Emma Donoghue puts it, "Being Catholic in England meant becoming slightly foreign, aloof from the establishment; as a church it was associated with the rich and the poor, but definitely not the bourgeoisie."  And of course, to be Anglo-Catholic was not at all the same thing as being Irish Catholic.)

Well, obviously I could go on about Radclyffe Hall all day.  But the reason I'm writing this post is to talk about her gender identity.  In her day, certain people were considered to be "congenital inverts."  "Invert" means that they were what we today call "transgendered" -- a male person living in a female body, or vice versa.  "Congenital" means that they were born that way, and just like today, that was seen to be an important moral point.  If you're congenital, it's not your fault.  You're not just doing it to show off, or to annoy.  You can't help it.

It was also assumed that your sexuality was defined by your gender identity.  Someone like Hall, who believed herself to really be a man (and pronouns are so confusing, by the way.  As far as I can tell, Hall always referred to herself with feminine pronouns, and most of her butch friends did too) would automatically be attracted to women.  Effeminate men were always attracted to men. 

In other words, no distinction was made between homosexuals and transgendered people.  In modern times a strong distinction is made.  I'm kind of ambivalent about this.  On the one hand, I wish there were more solidarity between the two groups.  The acronym GLBT gets used a lot, but the B's and T's often feel themselves to be tacked on.  On the other hand, I certainly don't want anybody making assumptions about anybody else.  Furthermore, it's heterosexist to assume that "masculine" people are only attracted to "feminine" people, and it's caused a lot of problems for trans people.

I have not actually read The Well of Loneliness, but I have read Hall's short story, "Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself," which clearly depicts a butch identity.  And even though Hall's identity is not mine, it still means a lot to me to see us in print.  I don't think I would have liked Hall much as a person. But we have to take our history wherever we can find it, and I am grateful to her for speaking out.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Alice Cooper

Recently I was reminiscing with some friends of mine about The Muppet Show.  Don't recall who brought up Alice Cooper -- it probably wasn't me -- but I said that seeing him on The Muppet Show rearranged my horizons.  I had been expecting someone like the Walt Disney version of Alice in Wonderland:  a blonde woman in a blue dress.  That's not who showed up.  Suddenly a lot more things seemed possible.

I've mentioned previously on this blog that I didn't have a label for myself as transgendered.  There was no word for it.  And of course there was no word for Mr. Alice either.  He never identified as trans (back then the word "transsexual" was more commonly used than "transgender") . . . he wore women's clothing occasionally but not consistently.  He was just doing his thing.  And maybe it was all an act . . . but he got out there and did it, and to this day he's still being Alice Cooper.  That is something.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

There is No Connection Between Sex and Gender

This is a post I was meaning to write when I first started this blog, but didn't get around to it.

Back then I visited the website of the Intersex Society of North America and read something that I thought was very interesting.  But first, I'll quote the first paragraph of their definition of "intersex":
“Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types—for example, a girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a notably small penis, or with a scrotum that is divided so that it has formed more like labia. Or a person may be born with mosaic genetics, so that some of her cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY.
 So, an intersex person has some kind of ambiguity about their biological sex.  This is the bit that really struck me though, where they compare intersex and transgender.  They state, in part:
The truth is that the vast majority of people with intersex conditions identify as male or female rather than transgender or transsexual. Thus, where all people who identify as transgender or transsexual experience problems with their gender identity, only a small portion of intersex people experience these problems.
Now, if that's true, it makes me wonder:  what are these people basing their gender identity on?  Supposedly one's gender is the same as one's biological sex.  Of course, that assumes that biological sex is always perfectly obvious.  If anybody has a "right" to be confused about their gender, it would be someone whose biological sex is unclear.   But here we have an association of intersex people which states that they are not unclear about their gender.  So it must be based on something other than sex.

 In other words:  sex is not binary.  Gender is not binary.  Things are a lot more complicated than that.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Caster Semenya, Caster Semenya, Caster Semenya

My heart goes out to her because in her I see my inner self made physical.

My heart goes out to her because she's been insulted and humiliated.

My heart goes out to her because there is still too much fucking ignorance in the world.


Caster Semenya: Part 2b of the Women Athletes series

(Posted using ShareThis)

Update:  Caster Semenya placed on suicide watch.

Posing as Female; or, the Awesomeness of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

(Note:  I've been working on this post for a few weeks now.  Not sure if it's done or not, but I'm sick of looking at it, so it's time to run it up the flagpole.)

When I was a feminist*, I disapproved of drag queens. (In fact, I disapproved of transwomen in general.) There's something especially infuriating about being told that women are supposed to dress a certain way, and then seeing men dressed that way.  Because it seems like men invented all these feminine trappings (I could certainly never have conceived of some of this stuff), and if they like them so much, maybe they should just keep them for themselves.  Why force them on me if I don't want them?  Perhaps men are really the ones who enjoy wearing makeup and slinky dresses.  That in itself doesn't bother me.  It's the expectations piled on me that drove me mad.  It's the ideal woman, that none of us can ever live up to. It's just not me.

Is it true that men are better at portraying an ideal woman, because for them it is purely imaginary?  I think that biological females tend to get distracted by biology.  Not very glamorous sometimes.

I once heard someone describing his first sight of a drag queen. It was in public, and at first he thought he was looking at a really magnificent woman, until someone clued him in. But he was still astounded. I don't recall if he actually said, "She was more of a woman than any real woman," but that's the impression I got. She had an air about her.

Now I think that the femininity of a transwoman is real. It can't be faked. Makeup and pretty clothes help; so do hormones and surgery; but the real thing is something inside you, and if you've got it, then you've got it.

Priscilla is one of the things that changed my mind, although, of course, ironically, the actors in that movie are not "real" drag queens, and so therefore they pretty much disprove my point. Terence Stamp, especially, was just amazing. That's acting!

And, of course, I've given up "posing as female" myself. That has removed a lot of my anger.  Like I said, I don't want to do drag myself.  But those who want to, and look fabulous doing it -- more power to them!  The funny thing is that I do care about my clothes a lot.  But I've always tried to create my own style. It has to look nice to me, and it has to be comfortable, which most feminine clothes aren't.

Haven't quite got my head around "posing as male" yet though . . . that is to say, I believe that masculinity is just as much of a pose as femininity -- perhaps even more so, given that men are generally expected to "excel" and not to show weakness. Fallibility is the human condition.  And I'm not interested in pretending to be superior.  Take superiority out of masculinity and what have you got?  I wonder about that.

Still feeling my way between the ideal and the real.  Still trying to avoid the unreal (by which I don't mean, the ideal.)

* I still believe in everything that feminism stands for. But traditional feminism has no concept of transgender, so it's much less useful to me now.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Rainbow Fields

When I was a college freshman, I spent a semester in therapy. For the first session, the counselor handed me a pad of paper and some crayons. "Draw a picture of your childhood," she said.

That was easy. Without hesitation, I drew a large circle, for the horizon. I drew a line intersecting the southern edge of the circle - that was the road. Most of the circle I colored green, pink and blue. The fields were green - they were never actually pink and blue, but that's the way I remember them: magical colors. In the summer they turned orange and yellow (for real!) with Indian paintbrush flowers. I should have drawn the woods too but I can't remember if I did.

I put a dot out in the field to represent myself. Where our house was I put a large black dot. It was concentrated: thick, black, ugly. I put four dots next to it to represent my family. I put one more dot outside of the circle to represent my father. Then I was done.

The counselor and I looked at the picture. "What do you see?" she asked. I started to explain it to her and then I stopped.

"That's strange," I said. "I didn't intend to do that."

"What?" she asked (no doubt with a certain professional satisfaction.)

"That dot out in the field is me," I said. "That's where I was happy. I put four dots to represent my family . . . my mother, my two brothers . . . and me, again. I didn't realize I was putting myself twice."

"There are two of you," she said.

"Yeah. There are two of me."

I don't recall that we talked about that very much. I needed time to assimilate this new idea, and there were more specific things that I wanted to talk about. But it's certainly true that I spent a lot of time - then, and right up to now - trying to find my real self. Not the self that everybody else saw, or failed to see.

I told her I was queer, but I had not yet excavated the fact that I was also transgendered. There were other issues I had to deal with first. But obviously, the existence of my "two selves" suggests that I had things to hide.

My mother said to me recently that she interprets my change of name as a reference to my maturity. My new name is my adult name; my old name belongs to the child I was, "out in the fields." I don't see it that way at all. I know that I'm still the child I was then. I have the same secrets. I must have the same gender.

It's certainly true that the lessons I learned as a child in the rainbow fields are what have kept me alive. To summarize: the human world is not the only world, thank goodness. Human beings (including myself) are selfish, narrow-minded, and scared.

There's a whole universe out there, much bigger than humanity. It provides beauty, nourishment, and a certain amount of danger, too. It is constantly changing. Constantly alive. Humans build their little structures and push their little buttons. Many of them don't seem to realize that the universe is alive. Life goes on without them. I was stifling inside that little box. I had to get out.

Sometimes I still forget those lessons. But I have to remember, because I can't survive without them. Nor have I learned everything I need to know, remembered everything I need to remember. I kept secrets even from myself.

The universe is still out there.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Pity vs. Respect?

Several years ago I discovered a website which I thought had some very good advice on how to come out to your family. These were the bits that really struck me:

You don't want a parent to feel sorry for you; they won't take this as seriously as you want them to if they pity you. . . .

Be patient with them; if they don't accept it right off, don't be angry with them. This is a very big thing for them and for you. You are not the only person going through this transition; your parents or parent goes through it with you, just in a different way. No matter how much they may cry, fall apart, rant, or fall silent, always be the strong one; the adult. . . .

If you give in to childish behavior and act like a victim, you disrespect yourself and you lose the respect of them in the long run.

In general, I don't want people to pity me. (And I believe that self-pity is probably the most pernicious thing in the universe.) I like it when people respect me, although they don't always.

I'm writing about this now because I find myself in a place where neither pity nor respect seem appropriate. Over the past year I've been struggling with certain things that are very difficult for me. (No, not my gender -- or at least, that's been difficult for entirely different reasons.) I have to admit that I've been pretty stupid. I'm not accustomed to feeling stupid, and I have to admit it, not just to myself, but to other people.

Anyway, I still don't want pity and I don't (yet) deserve respect. Because everybody does stupid things sometimes. So this is some kind of middle ground, called life, I guess.